Hotel Medea is the uncompromising all-night re-telling of the story of Medea by ParaActive and Zecora Ura, which I experienced in London this summer.

Starting with a boat-trip over the Thames, and ending in the early hours of the morning at a warehouse, it was an exceptional journey, and rather than ‘audience participation’, was more like ‘audience immersion’.  I usually shy away from participation, but the creators are masters of their craft, and got me to join in with gusto.  So, I decided to see if they would part with  their secrets!

Even if you have not been able to experience the event, I hope you enjoy the interview below, where the creators highlight the role of the audience and the process of bringing their concept alive.

What is Hotel Medea?
In an era of worldwide mass migration to ‘super-cities’, Zecora Ura Theatre (Rio De Janeiro/London) are seeking to create exciting and innovative performance propositions that question how we exist and how we communicate within the urban spaces we inhabit. Our intention with Hotel Medea – to engage our audiences in an overnight event in a public space – is  fuelled by this aim, and also by our drive to continually produce and  present unique, timely and artistically dynamic theatrical experiences.

Hotel Medea is a theatre trilogy (Zero Hour Market; Drylands; Feast of Dawn) inspired by the myth of Medea and technology of communication. Performed from midnight till dawn, the trilogy has been on tour in Rio de Janeiro and London since May 2010 with tickets selling out within 15 minutes of going on sale.

Why Hotel Medea?
Whilst questioning myself as to why (having come from Rio de Janeiro) I should continue to work as a director in London, I had the impulse to investigate a theatre piece that would defy London’s convenient after-work theatre culture; a desire to create work which would not comply with safe programming requirements or local target groups, but instead would offer something truly challenging that was unlike any other event.

Why Midnight to Dawn?
As we trained as an ensemble through the night we were aware of the interesting ways the body reacted in staying up all night, how some things in us would harden but other things would fall away. And also ask ourselves why, when first light approached was there always such an air of togetherness and achievement, as if we as a group could feel triumphant in successfully fending off the dark fiends of the night. In a way choosing to stay awake is also a means of defying death.

How did you fund the project?
INTERNATIONAL CO-COMMISSION & RESIDENCIES
We have set up The DRIFT Project in over 9 countries in the last 4 years as a residency for artists to meet through the medium of live performance.  During these two-week residencies we have developed many of the core ideas in the show and invited participating artists to join or company of collaborators.  We now work with a team of thirty five plus artists, including performers, designers, writers and DJs.  Different parts of the production were developed through commissions in its early stages of development by Salisbury International Arts Festival and CPC
Gargarullo, Rio de Janeiro.
(For images of CPC Gargarullo: http://www.gargarullo.com/br/Espa%C3%A7os)

Was this difficult?
Hotel Medea was always an ambitious project and has required unconditional  dedication from ourselves and our partners. It has sometimes been like walking down a dark and lonely road, but our determination to make this project happen has attracted like-minded partners, both in Brazil and in the UK, who have supported us by being willing to embrace risk as the
essential element of the artistic process.

Did you have any setbacks?
Our major setback was when we had to postpone our world première, which was initially planned for Aurora Nova Edinburgh in August 2008. When venue plans not to open that year were confirmed, we had to completely review our plans for the première. We accepted Arcola Theatre’s invitation to première Hotel Medea in their venue in January 2009.  This became very challenging due to the nature of the building which was very different to St. Stephen’s church in Edinburgh. However due to the partnership with Arcola the run was a success, with tickets sold out for the entire run before the première.  Arcola have become strong partners of our work ever since.

Tell us about your collaborators – How did you find them, and how did you work with them?   
Master Urias de Oliveira was a key collaborator to the development of Zero Hour Market (part 1 of the trilogy). Urias is a master in theatrical rituals and celebrations still alive in the Brazilian northeast region, especially in the state of Maranhão. We literally stumbled across Urias in Maranhão’s capital São Luiz during a research visit and have been working with him ever since. He has fitted into our process with effortless ease, has bought an invaluable knowledge to the project. In particular his knowledge and experience of the Bumba Boi tradition – a ritual based on the myth of a slave who kills his master’s prize bull to satisfy his pregnant wife’s desire – has fed into our work on Zero Hour Market – the first part of the Hotel Medea trilogy.  He is also an initiate of the Vodum religion of Tambor de Mina. PJM and Master Urias led work in the early phases of development, and became close collaborators since his work has strong links with Grotowski’s theatre of sources phase.

The inclusion of multi-award winning DJ Dolores’s work in a residency which took place at Gargarullo Centre for Popular Conspiracy allowed us to expand the vocabulary of ritual into a language our audience had direct access to.

But if we define a multi-disciplinary collaboration as one that occurs between specialists in differing fields, then we have to expect that these people may have different processes of collaboration, different artistic languages and different working practices – and at times this was tough. These key collaborators stirred up new thoughts and approaches to our way of thinking and working, by constantly questioning the core of that which we do.  It is both the saddest and most beautiful role that I have as a director to make final decisions – the moment all other options cease to exist.

Hotel Medea has a high level of audience participation – how did you ensure people would take part and not just shrink into the wallpaper?
Rather than thinking about Hotel Medea as having high level of audience participation it is more accurate to think about it as having been built around the actor and audience relationship. We never really set out to ensure the audience participation but rather let it evolve out of our research in the North Brazil. We participated in all night rituals, markets and parties that never seemed to have to work very hard at getting people involved. This is mainly due to Brazilians having a very collective nature. In Hotel Medea we wanted to be self conscious about the participatory aspect by setting up ‘guards’ on the outside that would vet audience on their readiness for the show – we would have them shown glimpses of the rituals, or the dances, or snatches of the songs – so that when it came to these parts in the show audiences felt confident that they had been taught these small actions and that gave a huge sense of permission.

How did you balance pushing people out of their comfort zones but still make them feel safe enough to participate?
We quite simply did not think of pushing people out of their comfort zones – we trusted them and we had total and utter confidence in them which always paid off. A judgement that we once had levied against us was that we did not ‘manage audiences’. What a horrible term! I am glad and proud that we do not manage audiences. I personally hate going to places and feeling herded around with spotty volunteer ushers bellowing “this way please!” at me. Audiences are smart and receptive and responsive to good work. They will trust you and follow you to the ends of the earth if the work you are doing is of value and of worth.  The only rule we had was never to force people to do anything they didn’t want to and we spent 4 years training actors in how to spot from a mile away audience members who want to play and those who prefer not to and more complexly those who think they don’t want to but actually do.  My feeling is that the quality of he work will make people feel safe.

Were there any people/audiences who did not want to play ball? What did you do then?
Yes there were people who did not want to play; those were often critics, reviewers, some academics, funders, venue managers etc. And what we did then was suffer. It made us fully realize that the show is never performed AT anybody but rather created each night, anew, with a fresh relationship dependent on what the audience bring with them that night.

Do you have any tips, do’s and don’ts when it comes to setting up audience interactions?
Our tip for for handling an audience is without a doubt: trust them. Then be good at what you are doing and know what you want from them. Create a lot of space for their creativity and individuality i.e don’t herd people around but involve them. Allow for that edgy ‘anything could happen’ moment.

Finally, do you have a favourite part of the show? (without giving too much away, of course)
Favorite moment? Out of a six hour show? Too difficult to answer but my favourite moment is the maids taking the audience in as children; in pyjamas, given hot chocolate and sung to sleep. Seeing them experience such warmth and love is a crucial beginning to the second Chapter in the trilogy.  [note - this was immensely powerful and a lovely part of the show for me - Tanja]
PJM

My favourite moment is when members of the audience guide small groups of children with teddy bears and mobile phones to a safe place after hiding in cubicles, cars and cupboards.
JLR
About the Directors/Creators:
PJM (Para-Active)
Reflecting a time of permanent crisis that we find ourselves in, PJM develops artistic projects exploring the role of the outsider. By creating ongoing encounters, theatre is transformed into a place of active culture, inviting a reconsideration of physical and virtual space and forcing a debate on the audience-performer relationship.

Jorge Lopes Ramos (Zecora Ura)
Jorge creates playful theatrical structures that allow for a participatory, immersive and interactive perspective of theatrical events.  His professional work and PhD by practice focus on the unspoken contract between the audience and the actor/performer.  He is constantly testing definitions of theatre as site-specific, time-specific and audience-specific, and trying to find out the role these ideas have in shaping the unspoken contract between audience and the theatrical event.
www.zecoraura.com / www.medea.tv ]

3rd November 2010